By Declan Carey
AROUND the world governments are failing to protect disabled people according to leading charities and international organisations, with Covid-19 ‘deepening’ global inequality.
Emina Ćerimović, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Redaction Politics that barriers for people with disabilities are increasing due to the global pandemic.
She said: “Even without the pandemic, people with disabilities are the world’s largest marginalised minority.
“We are talking about one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, that in many countries experience discrimination and barriers to accessing even basic services that other people take for granted.
“What we have documented since the beginning of the pandemic is whether people with disabilities can access basic information about what the pandemic is, how to protected themselves, and how to access treatment.
“What we have seen in many of these institutions is that people with disabilities face neglect and live in often unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
“So from the very beginning of the pandemic we have been reaching out to governments to ask them about the measures taken to protect these people. But also asking for clear numbers of people who have been infected and died from Covid-19.
“In particular I have been working a lot on this issue with the Serbian Government who has been unwilling to release this data.
“They are releasing data daily on the daily number of infections, how many people are infected on a particular day. They are releasing data on how many people living in institutions have Covid.
“But they don’t want to release data on the number of people who have died.”
“At the same time, evidence from other countries shows that the number of people who lived in institutions who have died of Covid is pretty high.
“What we are seeing is that all barriers: discrimination that people with disabilities experience before the lockdown and Covid has been exacerbated. “
In the UK, research by Scope revealed that almost 30 per cent of disabled people felt forgotten during the outbreak of the crisis.
The disability charity are campaigning for urgent action and support for disabled people.
In a statement, Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive at Scope said: “On entering Downing Street, the Prime Minister made a commitment to launch a National Disability Strategy that would make life better for disabled people.
“But coronavirus has magnified the societal and economic barriers that disabled people already face and risks turning back the clock on disability equality.
“Scope’s findings reveal that many disabled people are worried about life after lockdown.
“Shielding may be set to pause, but for millions of disabled people at greater risk of coronavirus their fears have not been taken into account and they feel overlooked.
“Scope is uniting with charities and disability campaigners to call for clear and urgent action from government to show they haven’t forgotten disabled people.
“The government must prioritise the National Disability strategy and make sure that disabled people are factored into all recovery plans.
“The government must protect disabled people’s rights and needs at every turn, through the pandemic and beyond.”
Over 41,000 people have died in the UK due to coronavirus, with the Office for National Statistics finding that men and women with disabilities were at greater risk of death involving COVID-19 compared with those without a disability.
In Parliament, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey used Prime Minister’s Questions to suggest the Government’s Coronavirus Act 2020 broke international law.
Other UK-based charities have reported similar issues facing disabled people.
Inclusion London, a group supporting deaf and disability organisations across the capital, found that 60 per cent of disabled people questioned in a survey struggled to access food, medicine and basic necessities during lockdown.
Internationally, a United Nations report revealed that disabled people lack access to essential services and goods, and are ‘the hardest hit in this crisis in terms of fatalities.’
Italy and Spain were some of the first countries to implement lockdown measures in Europe, an act which disproportionately impacted disabled people.
Disability groups such as The European Network on Independent Living reported a lack of protective equipment and measures to protect disabled people in Spain, leading to day centres closing.
The group revealed that support staff were also affected, especially those working within social care settings and institutions.
How has it come to this?
Emina Ćerimović believes not including disability rights organisations in the conversation has further marginalised people with disabilities.
“We have looked at how governments around the world have included people with disabilities in the Covid response.
“Unfortunately what we are seeing is that organisations for people with disabilities are not consulted, and their needs and rights are not taken into account.
“Measures that are being taken at the government level, do not respond to the rights and needs of people with disabilities.
“It’s rather a patronising approach where people without disabilities know what’s better for people with disabilities.
“Secondly, people don’t have access to lifesaving information.
“At the very beginning of the pandemic we were documenting that people with disabilities in countries like Canada, or Lebanon, or Serbia didn’t have access to accessible information on how to protect themselves from Covid.
“Even if you remember from the beginning the whole instruction on washing your hands, it’s not accessible to people with disabilities who can’t easily wash their hands.
“All the messaging on social distancing did not take into account how many people with disabilities depend and need the support of a personal assistant or other person to fulfill their basic needs.
“What we are seeing is that we can’t blame the pandemic, we can’t say governments were not prepared.
“We have documented the same things happening even without a pandemic.
“I have done a lot of research into people with disabilities living in humanitarian settings and we have seen their needs and rights are not taken into account for things like designing a refugee centre in an EU country like Greece.
“We documented that even the showers that were in place were not accessible to people with disabilities.
“Governments are overwhelmed, other organisations who are trying to provide support are also overwhelmed.
“And for some reason it is always people with disabilities who come last and who are being left behind.
The UK government was approached for comment.
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